I paid 149 Swedish Crowns for a 70g packet, which at today’s exchange rates equates to £12.93 GB, $18.27 US, or €16.03
This is a Spring 2012 sheng (“raw“) Pu-erh, from Bu Lang mountain, which is in Menghai county of Xishuangbanna prefecture in Yunnan province.
The tea was grown at an altitude of 1400m, and is of the Yunnan Da Ye (“large leaf“) cultivar. The tea was produced by the indigenous Bulang people.
The information given by House of Tea (in Swedish) states that the trees producing the leaves are “old“, which even in Chinese can be a bit vague as to whether the trees are truly wild or arbor, i.e. former plantation bushes that have gone feral over time.
In any case, the leaves were not grown on a low elevation young cultivated tea bush, which itself is an indication of better quality.
As you can see this is a loose leaf sheng Pu-erh – the tea has not been compressed into one of the many traditional shapes associated with Pu-erh.
I was interested in trying a loose leaf sheng Pu-erh because I’ve read quite a bit about how not being compressed can affect the tea’s ageing.
I’ve read that, amongst other things, the raw tea may mature faster when in loose leaf form, given the greater surface area of the tea that is exposed to its surroundings.
More often than not you will read that sheng Pu-erh in its compressed form will only become drinkable after at least a decade’s ageing, with many opining that this period should be nearer the 20 year mark.
This long maturation period was, after all, the impetus behind the development of the Wo Dui wet piling process that produces shou (“ripe/cooked“) Pu-erh, so that the tea would be fit to drink and ready for sale after approximately 60 days, rather than 2 decades.
However, I’m reading more and more about sheng Pu-erh that is considered drinkable after a mere 5 years, and the information that came with this tea said that despite it being only four years old it belonged in the “will age well but OK to drink now” category.
My first impression of the tea on opening the packet was a wonderful aroma of clean leather and dried Chanterelle mushrooms.
The initial session with the tea took place using my favourite white porcelain gaiwan, and 6g of leaf to match the 150ml of the gaiwan.
Water was as you might expect straight off a full rolling boil. I performed the usual quick rinse, the water from which was used to warm up the tea pitcher and my teacup before being discarded.
After an initial infusion of 10 seconds to assist in warming and opening up the leaves, I went back to 5 second infusions, with a further 5 seconds added to each subsequent steeping.
The aromas I picked up in the dried tea carried over into the finished liquor, or broth, as hard-core Pu-erh lovers refer to it as.
The mushroom tones were clean and fresh, and in no way hinted at mustiness.
There was also a delicious yeasty, savoury, umami quality to it, with the beginnings of a hint of malty complexity, that made this tea very moreish.
The tea had a very nice body to it, and had a pleasant aftertaste.
The Qi of this tea was very interesting indeed, one of the most remarkable I’ve ever come across.
I found it incredibly warming – the sweat was literally running off me! The tea also induced a very pleasant, dreamy, relaxed state of mind. Even though I was well aware of everything happening around me, especially the attention seeking yowling of my cat, I was completely zoned out, my mind wandering here, there, and everywhere. When you snapped back to the here and now it felt as though hours had passed, when in fact it had only been a minute or two.
As I said earlier, this was a very moreish tea, which was all well and good, as it just kept on going. I managed 13 infusions, and there seemed to be plenty of taste left in the leaves. I’d drunk my fill by that point, but I’d say that if you were sharing the tea you could reach 20 infusions or so without too much trouble!
I think I’ll have one more session with this tea, in my small clay tea pot that has been seasoned for Pu-erh, and then I’ll put it away, and take it out maybe once or at most twice a year, to see how it’s ageing.
It’s that nice I think I might buy a second batch, and set it aside for a good few years – if it drinks this well at only four years of age, how good is it going to be five, ten, or even 15 years from now?!